Religion & Beliefs

Kosher Organ Donation? Right on!

Posting about burial this morning got me thinking about death… which got me thinking about organ donation… which got me thinking about how messed up it is that Jews aren’t supposed to donate their organs.  Or so I thought. See, … Read More

By / April 23, 2007

Posting about burial this morning got me thinking about death… which got me thinking about organ donation… which got me thinking about how messed up it is that Jews aren’t supposed to donate their organs.  Or so I thought.

See, it has always been my understanding (here's where I embarass myself) that Jewish bodies need to be buried whole, so they can all rise up (Tehiyat Hameitim?) when the messiah comes and like, go bowling or something.  Because you can’t go bowling if you’ve donated your fingers for finger transplant, right?

But no!  It turns out that’s not true.  Not the bowling (not so shocking) OR the prohibition (slightly less shocking).  It turns out that I'm an idiot, and that organ donation is a mitzvah– as long as you follow some rules.

For instance, did you know you can donate one cornea?  It would seem that blindness counts as death, so you can’t give both.  But losing one eye doesn’t really blind you, so you can give one. How wacky is that?

Slightly less wacky is that you can give an organ to save a life immediately. So while I might not be able to donate generally, in case someone needed my kidney… if you were dying in front of me, for want of a kidney, I could rip mine out and give it to you.

This seems to be in conflict with some other things I've found:


Judaism insists that no organ may be removed from a donor until death – as defined in Jewish law – has definitely occurred. This can cause problems concerning heart, lung and similar transplants where time is of the essence.

 but I'm assuming that this is a misunderstood detail. I'm assuming that you can give a non-essential organ to save a life, even if you're alive. Anyone actually know the rules on this? Many of the rules and regulations surrounding Jewish organ removal have to do with the Jewish definition of “death”, which is pretty interesting (and has to do with the brain stem). You can read more on the subject here, or here. But all in all, I’m pleased to find myself completely wrong on this issue, even if it means I look kind of dumb. For more information, if you want to look into Jewish organ donation, you can turn to the Halachic Organ Donor Society, and you’ll find a HUGE number of articles on the subject there too.